The Usefulness of Debate

Is debate a useful technique in hashing out issues, learning from one another, or exploring solutions? I used to think it was, but I am beginning to question that wisdom. I used to consider debating an enjoyable sport, but I have been lately seeing the futility of this tool of discourse.

In the debates I have observed and participated in, I have noticed that very little consensus is ever reached. Both sides seem more interested in defending their prized crown jewels – nuggets of wisdom that are, more often than not, entirely subjective appraisals of the world around them. I am including myself in this assessment. I am certainly guilty of playing defense and not listening to the other side.

One can see this in action by watching less than an hour of the US Senate or House debate a topic. Presenters come prepared with slideshows and placards that generally reduce an issue to its most primal elements. The pre-packaged assessments roll off the tongue, but generally hold little resounding emotional resonance.

If you want to see an even more vapid example, read the comments section of any major newspaper website – or a contentious Facebook post. You’ll see paid shills arguing with each other with perfectly crafted quips, insults, and retorts. When an amateur debater joins the discussion with a longer, less polarized reply, they are either ignored or shunned. The discussion is nearly instantly derailed into adolescent grandstanding.

And after hundreds of replies, the original message was lost. Someone called someone else a jerk, used a curse word, or insulted their manliness in some way. Another innocent bystander tries to interject their perceptions on the issue and are slaughtered by the master debaters. A Facebook thread gets deleted, or a newspaper editor decides that comments just aren’t worth the bandwidth they consume.

In the end, we’re left with little to no knowledge gained by any of the involved parties.

From now on, I am going to try to participate in discussions, not debates. I will listen better, defend less, and learn more. My increased openness to ideas will not result in blind acceptance of them, but rather to be considered as alternative points of view. I’ll treat them like a buffet – take what I want, leave the rest. When someone tries to preach dogma to me, stops listening to me, or rallies their defensive forces for an all out siege, I will move on to the next discussion.

Call it a late resolution for 2017.

The Carnival is In Town

Think about what happens to a TV show when it begins to struggle in the ratings. It tries new and drastic things, turning the plot and character development up on its end to be bold, innovative, and keep viewers tuning in to see what’s next.
 
It vaguely reminds me of our current political situation. When no one else can get the job done – a carnival barker is brought in to shake things up. It’s time to solve our problems. It’s only a matter of time before happy days are here again, right?
 
I suppose we’ll then see if the boost in ratings will work. Otherwise, like any soap opera, the story will devolve into the ridiculousness and soon be forgotten.

Taxation is Theft, But…

It’s an oft-repeated phrase, especially around tax season. That libertarian friend you know and love will remind you that taking anything by force violates the non-aggression principle (or the NAP), a philosophical view that force of any kind, outside of self-defense, is wrong.

In the strictest sense, your friend is right. No one wants forced used against them, and unless you are violating another, it is hard to justify it. But this philosophy ignores several facets of reality that must be reconciled with any practical world view:

Universe Does Not Validate Force

The universe, all creation, God, whatever you want to call everything that is around us – the material world that we live in, be it our own creation or some divine experiment, does not care in the slightest the reason that force is used, or even its outcome. The universe seeks balance and will enforce it at all costs.

If force is used, at some point, somewhere, an equal and opposite reaction will occur. I’m not necessarily talking about Newton’s Third Law, but that physical effect is a manifestation of this universal principle. The conservation of balance is the most universal law in this reality. Regardless, the universe does not assign good or bad labels to incidents of force.

It is remarkably indifferent.

The Power of Culture

Since the universe doesn’t give any consideration to validating the use of force, who does? This is generally a cultural concept. People of a certain geographic area, ethnicity, spiritual belief system assign moral and ethical judgments that either validate or invalidate an action. Though these judgments seem quite real, but essentially they are simply human-placed abstractions upon our actions.

Humans, as far as we know, are unique on Earth in our desire to judge our own, and other’s, behaviors. Animals simply do what is necessary and do not encounter moral agony over stealing young out of a prey’s nest. We might find these behavior’s abhorrent, but they do what they must to survive. Whether or not they give a second thought to these behaviors is up for debate, and unfortunately we may never know.

Regardless, it is our culture that defines what is good and bad. This is not some universal truth.

Are You Ready to Rule Yourself?

In Anarchist-Capitalist and Libertarian circles, there is a lot of talk about doing without government of any kind in here.  But I would ask the question – are you really ready to completely rule yourself?  To be responsible in every way for the consequences of manifesting reality in your life?  Can you do without government entirely?

Before you immediately answer yes, ask yourself how you will survive? Will you cling to the notion of property rights, as many pure libertarians do? If so, I would suggest that you have immediately leaned upon a crutch of government. Property rights do not come from some universal or natural law. It is not an inherent concept in reality. It is created through government, a government which we, at one time, gave consent.

I would posit that the vast majority of people reading this, in fact, the vast majority of people in the world, are not quite ready to become our own masters in all matters in the material plane.

To use, but hopefully not abuse the phrase “check your privilege”, do not assume that you are ready for this monumental task. Humans will get there. It’s inevitable. No system lasts forever. But we are just beginning to awaken to new possibilities, new systems of thought and belief that only a couple hundred years of go would have landed you in a lot of hot water for even uttering in public.

Any knee-jerk reaction to assume humankind, or even one individual, is ready to be completely without government is a vestige of relative manufactured comfort. It is easy to feel self-sufficient with Amazon Prime, a fancy water filter, and some solar panels. But that is just the tip of the iceberg of the immense responsibility that awaits us.

Check your privilege, pay your taxes, and all the while learn to be a master of yourself. One day, perhaps in the not so distant future, we will be able to take a more substantive step of material and spiritual self-sufficiency.

Lead Us Not Into Division, and Deliver Us from -Isims

The holidays are a perfect time to gather your friends and family for wonderful celebrations and endless political and philosophical debates.

Actually, I love debating philosophy year-round, but the holidays are an even better time to get into those deep, controversial topics. Your guests aren’t going to leave while they’re eating delicious sweet potato casserole, now are they?

All joking aside, it’s not the intellectual dive into complex problems that creates drama among otherwise pleasantly agreeable people. The culprit in most disputes is division by firmly held dogmatic belief, or -isms. Communism, socialism, libertarianism, liberalism, conservatism, or pretty much any other word that has ism at the end is likely a belief system that applies a very limited set of core beliefs to a wide-ranging set of issues.

We often come down on one side or the other, dividing a complex situation into only two possible solutions. Isms drive us to do that, and that’s the problem.  That’s what creates the divide, and encourages non-participating family members to indulge in a second glass of wine to drown out the noise of the contentious debate. In the American election of 2016, long-time friends and couples have separated over these strong divisions. And yet if you discuss each issue without the preconceived political bias, most reasonable parties will at least form some workable consensus on the way forward to deal with the problem.

Just like no scientific theory can adequately explain every problem mankind has ever had, no political or philosophical system can handle even a majority of the real world issues that we encounter. While deeply held beliefs may drive your motivation or shape your answer to problems, the actual implementation is generally milder, more compassionate, and more complex than the simple, one-line memorized answers that people shout in debates.

The popular meme of “Taxation is theft” distills an extremely complex problem into a meaningless dribble of fact that offers no solutions to the problems that taxation tries to solve.  Is taxation theft?  You bet, from some.  Others are fine with paying, though we all pay taxes whether we like it or not. But by removing taxation do we solve all of the problems that taxes help to resolve? Not remotely. Conversely, simply taking tax money from the rich and giving it to the poor is the same kind of brute force thinking that solves nothing and actually exacerbates the problem it tries to resolve.

Dispense with the isms and listen to one another. By working together, you can usually arrive at an imperfect, yet workable solution.  The real world demands complex answers, discourages division, and won’t be soothed by the common platitudes that isms so easily dispense.

Having Car Trouble is Not a Capital Offense

In the past day or two I have seen a lot of excuses being made for the death of Terence Crutcher.  They range from:

  • If he had only followed orders
  • He shouldn’t have stopped in the middle of the road

Both of these are akin to the age old excuse of “She should have just kept her legs closed”, or “She might not have been raped if she wasn’t wearing such provocative clothing.”

When asked if traffic violations should result in summary judicial execution, I’m left with either blank faces, “wow”, or incessant stammering.  The excuses themselves ring hollow and smack of thinly veiled love of big government authoritarianism.  It’s really that simple.

I’ve asked the people who have made these excuses how they feel about small government.  They love it.  They want the federal government to shrink to about the size of a pea.  They don’t mind their state and local governments being ridiculously large, though, and they are apparently OK with traffic offenses (especially ones like having a tail light out) resulting in immediate judicial execution without due process.  And some of these same people are the ones I’ve seen complain about Obama violating the constitution.

The cognitive dissonance here is overwhelming.  If you want to Make America Great Again, then you must start by granting its citizens as much liberty as possible.  To do that, you put no one above another.  Not one person should be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process.  No one should be shot dead in the streets unless they have a weapon and intend to do harm to others.  These are not things that the constitution gives one inch on.  This is not a matter of interpretation, and this certainly isn’t something that is dependent upon the color of your skin.

What will it take for all Americans to understand that when one person’s rights are trampled, we all are gravely injured.  We used to understand that – our founding fathers not only held these truths to be self-evident but enshrined their very love of liberty into an imperfect, yet inspiring form of government.  We benefit from these brave men’s vision every single day.  Let us not tarnish it by spilling the blood of its citizens.